Non Rio news

Brexit guarantee

Reacting to the wide scale dismay over possible funding cuts, the UK government has committed about £6 billion a year to guarantee post-EU funding in areas such as farming and scientific research. But critics argue it doesn’t go far enough. Indeed, I would argue its very worrying as it suggests the government simply does not get the message.

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The UK receives billions in research funding from the EU

Take research funding. A clause in the government guarantee implies it only applies to research funding contracts signed before the autumn statement comes out. Given that many of those grants went in the bin on the 24th of June it is highly unlikely they could be resurrected between now and then. That’s not how academia works.

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For UK farmers subsidies are their main source of income

I’ve been quite busy the last week with resit exam marking, I’ve got viva resits coming up and the start of term. It would be mid-October before I or anyone else in academia could get around a table. And it would then take a few weeks or months for the EU to then okay everything. Keep in mind most of the EU research at risk involves collaborative research projects, across multiple states, so even with Brexit it will involve the EU. And typically the EU will only provide a portion of the funds, we then source the rest from private industry. Naturally the private sector, worried about the economic impact of Brexit might still say no.

And what about freedom of movement? A leave supporting MP only recently realised Brexit might leave EU citizens in limbo, nah you think! If I need to recruit a PhD student or a Research Assistant with a specific and narrow set of skills, its questionable if I can do that if I’m only restricted to the UK. Any doubt about my ability to recruit and the other partners (public and private) in the EU will still be asking me to take my name off the application. The fact that the government doesn’t realise any of this just shows you how out of touch they are.

More importantly this announcement more or less confirms what I’d warned before the referendum. That you can forget about that £350 million a month. The UK will still need to pay the EU for access to the single market. Keep in mind Norway pays something like 90% per capita of what they UK pays, we’ll suffer the drop in tax revenue that comes with leaving the EU (due to reduced trade) and we have to come up with several billion more a year extra too.

In short the UK is already worse off and we’ve not even got to the tricky parts of the negotiations yet (where we have to agree to call Cheddar “reconstituted lard” and English wine as “Du Vin Roast beef”).

China warns the UK over Hinkley C

The Chinese have issued a strongly worded warning to the UK over the threat to the Hinkley C deal. As always, this goes way beyond a simple nuclear power plant. It shows what sort of pressures the UK will face post-Brexit.

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China unveil’s its prototype reactor at Hinkley point

Leave campaigners, will argue that they can get a trade deal quicker off other countries than the EU can, which often takes years or decades to negotiate a deal. This is true, in much the same way I could buy a car tomorrow in ten minutes flat….if I didn’t mind going to a dodgy Arthur Daley type and taking whatever cut and shut banger he offered! Getting a good deal means haggling and much arm twisting. The EU can do this because they are one of the world’s largest collective economy’s. The UK can’t because the Chinese (or US) will have the UK over a barrel. Its their way or the highway.

Hence, I suspect Hinkley C will still go ahead, regardless. Its an offer the British can’t refuse.

Leave turf war

Speaking of international trade, there’s a bit of a turf war going on between Boris Johnson and Liam Fox. Both argue that they are entitled to negotiate future international trade agreements. I’m wondering if Theresa May has, rather ghoulishly, taken a leaf out of Hitler’s book. In that he would often put people he didn’t like in departments with overlapping responsibilities and then sit back and watch them squabble.

In short one has to wonder if a number of the Brexiter’s are being set up to fail. Hence when the article 50 business is kicked into the long grass and ignored until after the next election, nobody can complain, and its the Brexit camp who will get the blame.

Norwegian…based in Ireland?

I travelled to Scandinavia over the summer. One thing that I found surprising to learn that the budget airline Norwegian is flagged in Ireland. Why? Well simple, because Ireland is in the EU. Norwegian has big plans to expand across the Atlantic and they know how protective the US is of its businesses (land of the free…but only if you contribute to my congressional campaign!).

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Norwegian Airlines…..flagged in Ireland

Indeed the Americans have raised concerns about how European budget airlines operate. Its also alleged that Norwegian plan on using air crews hired in from Asia for its Transatlantic operations. While I would tend to agree, budget airlines are pushing things a bit too far, but this is clearly a case of the pot calling the kettle black. American airlines have become notorious for squeezing the margins and pushing their pilots way too hard. There have in fact been several air crashes in the US that are blamed on pilot fatique.

So the reality is, all of this is just excuses, because the Americans realise that Norwegian is the thin end of the wedge. What they really fear is Ryanair bringing its not inconsiderable network and low cost model across the Atlantic (they have plans to do so, although they are currently on hold) and driving their airlines out of business. Who knows, if Michael O’Leary has his way, American cabin crew might have to stop being so rude and bossy to passengers!

But obviously the point is that if Norwegian wasn’t based in the EU, the Americans would have just told them to hit the road. But because they are based in an EU country, they have to at least negotiate. This explains the dilemma faced by Easyjet. Its probable that Ryanair will follow Norwegian and expand into the US market. Easyjet will face the choice of being a short haul British based company (hoping that any restrictions on migrant and travel doesn’t mean a dwindling market share). Or leave the UK, likely register in Ireland themselves, and become an international airline.

Yes, Ireland a nation of 4.5 million could well have more airlines in a few years time than the UK a nation 11 times larger! All thanks to Brexit.

When the generations fall out

An interesting article I came across regarding baby boomers, from another blogger. They enjoy a remarkably good deal. Many managed to buy a large house before such things became expensive, they’ve retired on a final salary pension in their 60’s, when most younger generations (or the generation before them) retired on a less generous settlement later….if at all! And a triple lock on their pensions, plus the ring fencing of certain elements of the NHS budget means they’ve been spared the harsh austerity the rest of society has had to endure.

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And to cap it all we have the Brexit vote, where baby boomers overwhelmingly voted to leave, a final two fingered salute to succeeding generations. Indeed, its worth noting that baby boomers are also the worst generation for environmental damage and the most likely generation to be climate change deniers…..and likely to be Trump voters.

In short, there’s a very serious risk of the generations falling out. Many of those flocking to labour and Corybn are young (and angry) millennials. While its unlikely they will win this time around, as the baby boomers die off, its inevitable that the younger generations will gain control and suffice to say there will be a day of reckoning.

Recall, as I pointed out in a prior article Brexit does complicate matters as far as national debt. Any default or “haircut” on national debts will hit pensioners, baby boomers in particular very hard. Many could see their income wiped out. The chances that the millennials will see their incomes squeezed yet further to pay off these debts (run up paying for baby boomers cosy life style and a failure of past governments to tax baby boomers more while they were working), after this generational betrayal, its slim to none.

Italian banks

And speaking of which, the trigger event for a sequence of sovereign debt defaults could be about to strike. There’s been further concerns expressed about the health of Italian banks. Italy is at risk of economic turmoil if a referendum goes against the government.

Now any Brexiters who feel smug and say this is why we need to get out of the EU, well no. The entire global economy is interconnected. If Italian banks go down and risk bringing down Italy, the impact will be felt worldwide. And its pensions and savers in the UK who will have to take a hit.

Ultimately, the world’s governments will face a difficult choice, bailout Italy (not an easy thing), or risk a contagion of debt spreading through the whole economy. A default of Italy would of course leave investors worrying about who is next and whether “safe as the bank of England” is really that safe. Which could make things very difficult for governments dependant on credit (such as the UK).

First contact?

Another interesting story revolves around a mystery object exo-planet hunters have discovered. They’ve concluded there’s something odd about a star some 1,000 light years from Earth. Some are arguing that it could be signs of an alien mega structure known as a Dyson’s Swarm. While unlikely, the very fact its being seriously considered is of interest (no scientists wants to be a member of the “I saw a flare” club, so they won’t announce this unless they’ve evidence to back that up). Its good to know there might be intelligent life in the universe…because there’s bugger all down her on Earth!

Trump’s minions

How can you not mention Trump, he’s like a sort of virus. However its more his minions that I want to talk about. Being a spokesman for the cult of Trump has got to be a pretty awful job (worth seeing Trevor Noah’s take on this here). Your boss says the most insane batshit crazy stuff, you have to try and row back on it, no he didn’t say that…..okay he did (after being confronted with a video of him saying it), but that’s not what he was trying to say….Only, for Trump to come out and reverse course again two minutes later. Its likely he’s killed the career of Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich.

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However, another tactic of Trump’s minions is to try and out Trump Trump. Take his chief Spokesperson Katrina Pierson. She’s an ex-Tea party candidate who proved to be a little too crazy even for the tea party (she’s wears a necklace….made from bullets!). She’s regularly gone beyond Trump in craziness, recently blaming the US invasion of Afghanistan on Obama (leaving TV journalists speechless). When the insanity of what she was suggesting was pointed out, she tried to blame her microphone (an excuse both she and Trump have used in the past…perhaps we should start a kickstarter fund for her and Trump to buy a hearing aid?).

And Trump has recently announced changes to his campaign team. His campaign chief Paul Manafort, under pressure over payments to him linked to Putin, has been pushed aside. Instead Trump’s brought in the boss of Breitbart (a man referred too as “the most dangerous political operator in America”) and allegedly also ex-Fox News chief Roger Ailes. Which incidentally does raise some awkward questions as to what was going on over at Fox News during that whole Trump v’s Megyn Kelly saga (keeping in mind, Ailes was Meygn’s boss).

One has to worry what sort of fruitcake’s Trump will dig up to form his cabinet, in the increasingly unlikely event of him being elected. Its no wonder some are arguing that Trump doesn’t actually want to be president, he only did it to further his TV career and is now deliberately sabotaging his own campaign.

Let me draw you a picture

One of the problems with climate change deniers is that they will waffle along, making spurious contrarian claims at such a rate one can’t debunk them all, or quote misleading information (often doctored or deliberately misinterpreted). In a recent debate in Australia Brian Cox managed to outwit climate denier and member of the neo-fascist “One Nation”, Malcolm Roberts, by bringing along a graph of the data that he claimed didn’t exist.

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Naturally this led Mr denier to claim the data, collected by NASA, was “doctored”, leading Brian Cox to question Roberts whether he also believed NASA hadn’t landed on the moon. While this might seem a bit of an unfair jibe, but as I’ve pointed out before the idea that dozens of agencies around the world, universities, NASA, ESA, the Met Office, the Tyndall centre, Scripp’s institute, the US military, etc. could all independently conduct studies (often relying on different data sets gathered in different ways) and reach the same conclusion. This leaves one only one of two alternatives, a) the evidence supporting climate change is rock solid, or b) all of these agencies worldwide are engaged in one massive global conspiracy, that makes faking the moon landing seem simple. So if you believe the climate data is doctored, then it is legitimate to question whether said individual is a tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorist.

Also deniers need to realise that they’ve been “found out”. The website “Skepticalscience.com” now has an easy to browse list of many prominent climate contrarians, listing their favoured climate myth and the information to debunk them. They also have a complete list of all climate denier myths along with the counter arguments, filed at a range of different levels (e.g. a simple quick explanation, or the hard scientific one). So in truth all you need to do to combat a climate denier these days is have a smart phone or I-pad and this website open on it.

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A soggy Yuletide Roundup

The failings of Paris

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While I’m pleased that the agreement in Paris yielded some positives, however it suffers from a major problem – it is distinctly lacking in specifics. There are no set targets nor timetable in terms of at what pace emissions should be cut, no clear policy for enforcing such cuts, no penalties to countries who renege on their commitments at Paris.

Much of the debate seemed to be as to whether a threshold of 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees should be accepted. Why didn’t they just go the whole hog and make it -1.5 degrees and commit to cooling the planet slightly for all the good it would have done! Because without some sort of concrete measures its inevitable that cutting emissions will quickly fall to the bottom of the political agenda, particularly when there are populist parties on the rise in many democracies who believe they can ignore such things as climate change.

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We can tell how meaningless the agreement reached was by the fact the UK government signed up to it. This is despite the fact that the UK has cut back on all its subsidies for renewables and reversed many energy efficiency measures. In fact it has committed to an energy policy all but guaranteed to push up emissions. Many were expecting the UK to try and veto or sabotage any agreement at Paris, but they didn’t have too, because they know that they can sign up to it, make a few meaningless speeches about saving the rainforests or hugging polar bears but otherwise ignore the matter.

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And without the necessary signal from politicians getting the energy industry to commit the sort of funding needed to bring about the necessary changes is highly unlikely. While the renewables industry is growing, its not growing nearly quickly enough and only a shift in national energy policy in many countries will produce the necessary incentives.

So I have little doubt that the next climate conference in a few years time will be to discuss how to meet the Paris accords given that few countries have cut emissions, indeed several have increased them. And no doubt without binding targets the meeting after that will be to discuss how the commitments agreed in Paris are now technically impossible to meet and less stringent targets need to be set.

Meanwhile in Yorkshire

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And should anyone in the UK wonder what’s the problem with climate change, go for a walk in York city centre sometime, or indeed many UK towns. You might want to bring wellies….and a wet suit….or a boat!

While its important not to try too link any individual weather event to climate change, it has to be acknowledged that one of the effects of climate change is more extreme weather and flooding. And the floods in the UK have been getting increasingly worse. This isn’t so much an elephant in the room but an entire family of them. And in the wake of recent flooding in the UK there is already talk of the need for a major rethink towards flood defences across the UK.

Indeed, I would go further. Building flood barriers higher and higher isn’t going to solve the problem. Flooding isn’t just a case of people getting their carpet’s wet, it has economic implications. If your home is prone to flooding you will struggle to get insurance or a mortgage and hence the value of that property, even if its in a prime location, will suffer. In my home town of Cork, a city prone to flooding (as I will discuss in a moment), the most valuable property are those outside the city centre, as those in the centre of town are vulnerable to flooding. Indeed in the wake of floods a few years ago, there are a large number of abandon buildings in the town centre, which nobody wants to invest in.

So clearly if we don’t do something to tackle climate change there will be a host of knock on economic effects, quite apart from the financial cost of building ever more elaborate flood defences. And of course more pictures of politicians standing in waders surrounded by angry locals.

Floods? Its the fault of foreigners

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I always find it amusing how the bigot brigade can twist any problem such that its the fault of foreigners, migrants….or Jeremy Corybn. These floods are a good example. While the other newspapers point to the failings in the governments flood policy, where Osborne’s austerity axe has led to cuts and preventable” flooding (expect lawsuits to follow!), or climate change, the Daily Mail instead blames foreign aid.

Yes its not Osborne’s or Cameron’s fault for cutting back on flood defences, no its those nasty evil migrants who came over here, broke into Downing street and forced the Tories to give money to the regime’s they were fleeing….before presumably running off to the nearest benefits office.

Firstly, what we call “foreign aid” should really be called “UK industrial subsidy” as its often provided to regimes on the basis that they use it to buy British goods (its more equivalent to giving these countries a UK store discount card). Inevitably some of it (perhaps quite a lot of it) does get laundered into swiss bank accounts, but it does so via British businesses. So the headline should read, British businesses help dictators rob billions while Britain is flooded.

Furthermore the whole point of such programmes is to improve the lot of of people in these countries, many of whom count as some of the poorest and most down trodden people in the world. The logic is that if we do this, they will be less inclined to take the dangerous journey across the Med and end up on our shores. So its a bit rich the Daily Mail complaining about all these refugee’s showing up one minute, then complaining about the government trying to do something to prevent such migration in the first place.

Cork flooding

And an idea of what is in store for the UK can be found in my home town of Cork. Like I said, the city has long been prone to flooding. This is nothing new, much of the city centre is founded on reclaimed marsh land, with ancient tributaries flowing in tunnels under a number of the city’s streets.

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In 2009 however the city was subject to an unusually high flood level of 3.1 metres above the usual high watermark, higher than it has ever been since records began. Much of the blame for this flood was levelled at the ESB (electricity supply board). Fearing for the integrity of the Iniscarra dam down river from the city, they felt obliged to open the flood gates and release a large quantity of water. This decision is now a matter of much debate, with a court case ongoing as to whether this decision is justified.

The argument goes that the dam wasn’t as at risk as thought. Furthermore, the ESB had held back a lot of water a few days earlier to allow police divers to search for a body down river. In essence, those suing the ESB for damages claim that the flood was “preventable”. Now while this is debatable, you can obviously see the problem for the UK government. If it can be proven that their austerity worsening the impact of flooding, then they could well find themselves sued by the insurance firms for billions of poundsso Osborne trying to save a few million could cost the country many times that amount!

But returning to the matter in Cork, I would tend to come down in favour of the ESB. Hindsight is a fine thing. Had the ESB not held back the water and a police diver drown, wouldn’t they be sued by the policeman’s family? If they had held the water on the day of the flood and the dam failed then won’t they be blamed for the loss of life that would have resulted downstream?

And like I said, flooding is normal in Cork. Anybody who bought or built property in the boom in the city centre must have surely known what they were getting themselves in for. I mean in one case they build a luxury hotel on a known flood plane. This included an underground car park right next to the river! You do have to pause and wonder what were they thinking!…or perhaps that’s the problem, they were too greedy to think straight.

And one of the main claimants in this case is UCC (University College Cork) who built several large buildings right on the flood plane, which hardly sounds sensible. And as they are paid for by the state and the ESB’s main shareholder is the state, so this court case is literally a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

In essence city’s like Cork (or New Orleans in the US or Venice in Italy) are the canaries in the coal mine. They show us what they long term effects of climate change will be. It will mean lots of people loosing their homes or their investments (ending up owning a property they’ve invested heavily in that’s now rendered worthless). This is the price to be paid for a lack of commitment on climate change. And suffice to say the costs of dealing with the problem will vastly exceed the price of avoiding it in the first place.

The European migrant crisis

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Back in Ireland I happened to be listening to the annual Michael Littleton Memorial Lecture. This year it was given by the businessman and economic adviser Peter Sutherland on the theme of “Migration – The Global Challenge Of Our Times“.

In essence his point was that to deny refugees access to the safety of the EU was to undermine the core values of the not just the EU, but the post-war settlement in Potsdam. Effectively populist anti-immigration parties now threaten to undo everything the west fought for during the war.

Refugee’s, he reminds us, are afforded special status due to the lessons learnt during the holocaust. Prior to this many Jews attempted to flee the nazi’s but were turned back and refused potential safe haven’s, largely due to politicians giving in to populist and racist pressure from the bigot brigade. The most notable example of this was the MS St Louis, otherwise known as the voyage of the damned. Several hundred Jewish refugees on this ship were refused entry to the US, Canada and Cuba and ultimately forced to return to Europe, where many would ultimately die in the concentration camps.

Certainly he is not arguing for an open door policy on migrants. Indeed he argues very firmly for a centralised EU policy on this matter rather than they current policy of beggar thy neighbour. Also there is a need to sort the legitimate refugees from economic migrants. Ironically it is the very populist anti-EU and anti-migrant parties who are stoking fears over migration who represent the major obstacle to any agreement on this issue.

Efforts by the Germans to ease pressure on Greece and Italy have been exasperated by an openly racist policy from governments in the UK, Poland and Hungary. He accuses populist politicians across Europe of stoking the fears of the public and appealing to the lowest forms of deceit. He points out the 780,000 taken in by the US since 9/11 only 3 have engaged in any form of terrorism (and one of those was white!).

And as he further argues, the reality is that Europe needs these migrants. The economies of Europe need an influx of new young workers to pay taxes to fund the pensions of many new retiree’s. The price for many in the UK of curbing migration could well be the loss of their pensions.

It is of course interesting to contrast Peter Sutherland, an individual famous for being to the right of Thatcher, and the likes of UKIP. Of course its easily explained by the fact that he represents a traditional right wing economic liberal view, while UKIP represent national socialism. While they may pretend to be on the right, instead they favour a centrally planned migration policy and borders as tightly controlled as those in North Korea.

The Antibiotic apocalypse

A disturbing story over the last few weeks has been the evolution of bacteria that can counter the drugs of last resort. It is now feared we may only be a few years away from a future where the slightest cut could prove fatal, where many easily treated diseases could prove fatal, where routine medical procedures could be rendered incredibly dangerous. Ultimately the life expectancy of us all will fall for the first time in many generations.

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However what is more disturbing is how this was easily preventable. I was shocked to learn that this very same “drug of last resortwas being routinely given to farm animals in the UK (restrictions were agreed in the UK this month, which sounds like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted).

I mean you say “drug of last resort” most of us would assume we’re talking about a drug locked in a cabinet which only a handful of doctors have access too, perhaps one requiring two keys to open. But no, we were instead shovelling it into feeding trough of Daisy the cow, even thought there was nothing wrong with her!

Its not so much a surprise we’re in this predicament, but a surprise that we didn’t recognise the obvious danger decades ago and do something about it! This again, is the danger of letting major problems like this fester.

A not so magical Christmas

You’ve probably heard Donald Trump’s view that the borders should be closed to Muslims. You probably laughed as the late night comedians ripped him to shreds over it. However what’s not so funny is that, to some degree, it is already the policy of the US that they can exclude people from the country purely on the basis of race and religion.

In the run up to Christmas a British family were prevented from travelling to the US for reasons that the US authorities have not fully explained, citing the Patriot act. They were on their way to Disney land for a Christmas holiday. You can imagine the father trying to tell his kids how their Christmas was now ruined by institutional racism within the US department of homeland security.

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Since 9/11 the US has implemented a policy whereby everyone seeking to enter the country has their name run through a register. And if you’re on a no fly list, you can’t come in. However, given that the list doesn’t distinguish between one guy called Abdul Mohammed and another unrelated person, with the same name  (and its worth noting a lot of Muslim names sound alike, I’ve had three or four Mubarak’s or Mohammed’s in the same class, often from different countries), its very easy for someone to end up on the list and be banned from the US, even if your a law abiding citizen….or even a 1 year old child!

Worst of all is that there is no feedback, no appeals. Your told you can’t fly period. So much for the land of the free!

Good guy with a gun

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Its worrying how you have to rely on US late night comedy for any serious news and analysis in the US. Here’s an interesting piece by the Daily Show regarding guns. The NRA will tell you that the solution to a “bad guy” with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

Well not so say the experts. The reality is that a good guy with a gun will likely be shot before he can shoot back. It takes many years of intensive training to teach someone how to react to a shooting incident. Send a bunch of wannabe vigilante’s in and they’ll likely either freeze and be shot, walk straight into a hail of bullets (their gun picked up by the shooter, which was handy as he was starting to run out of ammo!), they may shoot an innocent person fleeing from the attacker or be shot by the police as they arrive on scene (put yourself in a cop’s shoes, you enter a building where there’s been a shooting, you come around a corner see a guy with gun, what do you do? Politely ask him if he’s the homicidal manic they are looking for?).

This matches the results of FBI studies which suggest that a “good guy” only stopped a shooter on 3% of occasions….and many those good guys were unarmed!

It also mirrors the experience of the military. Studies have shown that the majority of green troops in combat will not shoot to kill. They will either freeze, shoot but aim high, or pretend to be busy doing something else (carrying ammo or wounded, making a radio call, guarding the rear for a flank attack, etc.). And we’re talking here about people who’ve been through several months of rigorous training. This is why the US security services and military train relentlessly. It is literally a full time commitment that no group of amateurs could ever hope to match.

And of course we’re forgetting that our spree shooters might just change tactics. If for example you know a university has allowed all its jocks to carry guns around campus, are you going to pitch up with a pistol?…or are you going to take pot shots at them with a rifle from a high roof top?

Ultimately the way to stop a “bad guy” with a gun is to make it harder for him to get a gun in the first place. While shootings at schools or campuses in the US are sufficiently common they now train people how to react, in Europe its practically unheard of.

Reagan in power

And speaking of America, we have revelations about what life was like in the White House behind closed doors under Reagan. In one quote “no one has ever entered the white house so grossly ill informed”.

William Leuchtenburg (a history Professor from Carolina) describes how his staff desperately tried to keep Reagan from the media (he performed all of 6 news conferences in his first year in office, a modern president would do that many in a month), in case he blurted out something crazy. Reagan demonstrated his ignorance at many meetings by not having a clue of current events (he interrupted a meeting on nuclear weapons policy to discuss the plot of the kids movie War Games). On other occasions he fell asleep during meetings…once while the French President was in the room! “You could walk through Ronald Reagan’s deepest thoughts” a California legislator said, “and not get your ankles wet.

Fortunately Reagan’s skill as an actor allowed his staff to guide him through public events, giving him cue cards and even chalking out where he should stand. Meanwhile the mandarins behind the scenes ran the country without him. While some of this turned out positive (the economy did increase for a time) but generally it proved to be a disaster (the economy fell, the deficit soared, the Neo-cons nearly started world war 3, vast sums of public money was squandered) largely because America was essentially rudderless for 8 years.

It is probably incorrect to credit Reagan with much of what went on under his reign, for it would seem the lights were on, but nobody was home!

Jersey Bankruptcy

The UKIP plan for the UK post-Brexit is to turn it into something resembling Jersey. Quite apart from the obvious problems with that, i.e. Jersey doesn’t have to pay for all of the infrastructure, military forces, welfare, pensions and other expenses the UK government has to handle, there is another flaw. That Jersey is currently tittering on the brink of bankruptcy.

The country bet heavily on property, investment and basically prostituting itself off to wealthy tax dodgers. However, since the economic downturn its been struggling to balance the books. Part of the problem for Jersey is that its lassie-faire government has left it at the whim’s of global events. And inevitably with the downturn, its seen an ever growing deficit problem that may prove impossible to fill. Likely requiring them to eventually go cap in hand to Westminster. Naturally this does not bode well for the UK as a whole, should the country vote to leave the EU.

As for Jersey, should we bail them out? My view, no! They made their bed, let them lie in it. The train-wreck of their collapse will serve as a stark example to other tax havens and tax dodgers.

Irony still not understood

The UK’s energy secretary Amber Rudd is showing signs that she possesses a superpower – a complete immunity to understanding the concepts of irony or hypocrisy.

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She has been complaining that councils are taking too long to make decisions on Fracking, suggesting that they are just delaying the inevitable and should just hurry up and make a decision within 16 weeks, threatening that the government will take the power to decide off councils who are seen to be dithering.

Of course this all but betrays the fact that the government’s plan is to railroad over local opposition to fracking and drive applications through, even when there’s a clear majority of locals against it. This is in stark contrast to their policy on wind energy where they are trying to halt onshore wind on the off chance it might spoil the view from ones hunting estate/golf course.

And councils will point out that the reason why its taking them so long is that they are presented with a room full of evidence that they then have to shift through. And with government austerity they can’t pay for the staff to process such applications any quicker. So if Amber Rudd wants things moved along, how about wandering down to number 11 and asking Osborne to pay for some extra staff for councils?

Also there’s a more worrying message. I would argue that fracking has gotten a bad name for itself because the Bush Adm. promotion of it created a massively under-regulated industry. It became a wild west and inevitably you ended up with some jack-asses who didn’t know what they were doing making a mess. If fracking was better regulated, this won’t be a problem, or so I am told by those in academic circles who are promoting it.

I recall a situation in Ireland where a major chemicals company moved into the area around my home town of Cork. The first thing they did before so much as turning a sod, was conducting an intensive environmental audit of the whole area. This was so that they knew everything in the environment (natural and unnatural) as well as every source of existing pollution. That way if anyone from the Irish environment agency, or some ambulance chasing lawyer, came along and accused them of putting this or that into the local ground water. They would have the evidence to prove, nope not us, that’s likely the fertiliser plant down the road.

You would think the fracking company’s would do the same and that the government would support such a policy. A careful environmental audit prior to any fracking, a few trial operations under intense environmental scrutiny, which would then serve to determine best practice for future operations, as well as establish what the actual environmental impact of fracking is likely to be. Instead Amber Rudd seems to favour the wild west approach that’s got fracking such a bad name state side.

And there is also further hypocrisy. The justification for cutting subsidies for renewables (or Green crap” as Cameron put it) has supposedly been to cut back on bills. This is despite the fact that renewable and energy efficiency subsidies cost about 6% of the average UK bill, about £50-75 per household per year. In the worse case scenario (had we stuck to the energy plans of past governments), this subsidy could have potentially doubled over the next decade. By contrast, the IMF have a report out that estimates that subsidies towards fossil fuels costs the UK about $635 per person (about £400, i.e. at least 4 times more than any subsidy to renewables would ever cost us!).

The reality is that the government does not give a damn about climate change, value for money for householders, nor do they care whether the lights go out. They are merely promoting the energy options that will most benefit certain vested interests in the nuclear and fossil fuels industry….which incidentally also includes one of Rudd’s own advisers I might add. What is more worrying is that much of the Tories anti-renewable agenda is simply ideological. An ideology which is putting the UK out of step with all but a handful of other loony right wing governments, and risking the country’s long term energy future.

The new normal

The tabloids are fretting as usual over “immigration”, with a significant increase in the numbers arriving from across the Mediterranean. Something that is having a knock on effect at places like Calais. However, as discussed recently by Ellie O’Hagan in the Guardian, the fact is that some of these migrants are fleeing not war, or ISIS but the effects of climate change. A factor that the media seems to be missing.

Boats crammed with Migrants is something we might have to get used too

Boats crammed with Migrants is something we might have to get used too

Now admittedly the number of people we can currently classify as genuine “climate refugees” is probably only a fairly small proportion of those arriving. However, a fact we need to get used to is that this number is going to increase if we don’t do something about climate change urgently….and I mean a lot!

If you think a few hundred thousand refugees is more than we can handle, wait a few years. After sea level’s rise (about 150 million people in Bangladesh alone live only a few metres above sea level) and desertification take there toll we’ll likely be facing tens of millions a year trying to get in.

Now at the moment, the numbers coming in are numbers we can handle. Anyone from UKIP or any other bigot brigade outfits who tells you Britain/Europe/the Third Reich is “full doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The reality is that by international standards, Europe has a relatively low population density, and the US and Australia are even less densely populated. Even a million extra refugees per year is an increase of just 0.2% in the EU’s population. And the fact is that an ageing Europe needs people coming in, or there will be nobody left working to pay the pensions of the very baby booming bigots voting for far right parties. Similarly, in the US, the anti-immigrant case holds very little correlation with reality.

However, once we are facing refugee numbers in the millions, perhaps tens of millions in a bad year, its not going to be funny any more. Such numbers will indeed be far more than we can handle. And the money it would cost to try and keep them out or pay for relief efforts is almost certain to exceed what it would cost to gradually get off fossil fuels. Its a crisis that could easily bankrupt the continent in the long term.

So rather than getting our knickers in a twist over a couple of fence jumpers at Calais, I’d argue the time has come to take some serious long term action. For the best way to stem the flow of migrants is for the west to quit screwing over other people’s countries.

Tories cuts to renewable subsidies – a new age of stupid

The Tories have followed through with their election threat to cut wind farm subsidies. However they have also proceeded to cut numerous other subsidies, including those given to solar energy and biomass as well as the Green deal (grants for improved insulation). The Green investment bank, one of the few progressive moves that came out of the previous lib dem/Tory government is also to be “part privatised”….which sounds suspiciously like “allowed to go bankrupt” (the only type of bank the Tories would let go to the wall!). All in all it looks like the UK’s energy policy is about to be plunged into a “dark age”.

The (pro-nuclear) environment secretary Ashley Rudd also misses the irony of the fact that she is throwing a massive subsidy the way of nuclear energy, to the tune of 68% of the cost of every watt of electricity they sell. Yet wind farms are also excluded from this “contracts for difference” nuclear slush fund subsidy scheme, despite offering better value for money. And this is on top of the fact that the UK DECC already spends 40% of its budget servicing nuclear waste, the costs of solar energy subsidies are but 6% of the total costs associated with energy subsidies.

All of this would be just plain bad news, if it weren’t for the fact that industry (and not just the renewables industry) are warning, that these measures send out a “chilling” message to business, something that will inevitably lead to job losses, if not a complete halt to work in terms of adding new power capacity. Just as we go into a winter with just 1.2% of spare capacity. It hardly seems to me a winning strategy to halt the production of the the very energy source that’s growing, while coal stations are shutting down, as they cannot compete with wind power and hydro.

And yet, as I’ve previously mentioned, while the Tories are quite keen to block wind farm applications, they also plan to remove any right of residences to object to fracking under their own homes, while throwing yet more subsidies the way of the fossil fuel industry. Something that is sure to put the UK at loggerheads with the rest of the EU, Obama (and inevitably Hilary, who appears to be trying to make climate change an election issue next year) and the Pope (of course Cameron and Osborne aren’t Catholic, so the Pope’s message was kind of lost on a pair of followers of Cthulhu ;D ).

Perhaps the worst of all of the cuts however, are those to the Green deal and the scrapping of building codes for low carbon homes. As I’ve previously mentioned on my energy blog the bulk of the UK’s energy consumption is spend heating and cooling homes, particularly the heating load over the winter months. This accounts for between 36-42% of the UK’s energy consumption and carbon emissions (depending on how you count it). By contrast, electricity is but 20% of the UK final energy consumption (a good portion of which is of course consumed heating and cooling buildings) while vehicles consume 25%.

So the easiest, simplest, cheapest and most painless way to cut carbon emissions, while in the long term cutting energy bills and improving the nation’s energy security, is to improve energy efficiency standards. Furthermore, I would argue that it is heating, not electricity, that is the energy source we need to protect. Give most people on a cold winter’s night the choice between losing electricity or losing heating and most will chose to do without electricity (trust me I’ve had many a cold bothy night and I know which of those two I’d choose!). Going without electricity isn’t fun, its inconvenient, but at least nobody’s going to die. Which is exactly what will happen to the UK with the loss of heating, we’re talking about grannies freezing to death and that sort of thing.

So there is ultimately no logic to this other than the more obvious fact that this Tory policy is driven purely by ideology. The same ideology that drives the right wing in the US Tea Party to deny climate change and oppose gay marriage. A belief that if you bury your head in the sand the lion will go away. That the solution to a look out screaming “iceberg” is to not have any look outs and blind the helmsmen. We are truly in the age of stupid.

Blogging catch up

Been a while since I’ve had a chance for any blogging, I thought it was time for a catch up.

Greek default
The Greeks are going bankrupt….like a Greek. I think this was the problem the Germans never anticipated. They assumed that if the Greeks did default, they’d default like a German, but of course that’s not going to happen.

Instead, we have Athens basically saying they need to sleep on it over the weekend, have a referendum and even then with it looking like talks are finished, they come back to the table. If the Eurocrats thought that this was going to go to any sort of plan, they were wrong. And the assumption that the Greeks, if they vote no, will quietly leave the Euro, is flat wrong also. That would be way too logical and organised.

Again, this goes back to the beginning of this whole saga, when a failure to tackle the crisis quickly, largely because of resistance from the Germans, let to it building from a minor issue into a full blown crisis. In the end the very thing the German’s resisted, Quantitative Easing, the ECB have been forced to bring in anyway. So while yes the Greeks have to take some of the blame for this crisis, so too does the rest of the EU. And if anyone things the Greeks are going to make things easy for them, they’ve got another thing coming.

Heathrow
An interesting piece here from the BBC about the long running saga of choosing the next airport for London. Would you believe that committee after committee has been debating this matter since the Roskill Commission in 1971. They recommended a new airport on a greenfield site in Buckinghamshire. Then, as now, the government rejected this proposal and fudged the issue. And successive governments have been fudging it ever since.

So with that in mind you can understand why this week’s Airports commission report went down like a lead balloon. The problem here is that politicians keeping asking for an answer to a simple question and then not liking the answer they get back.

Expansion of Gatwick or building a new airport in the Thames estuary comes with numerous difficulties, not least of those cost, but also the issue that such an airport will be in the wrong place. Any replacement for Heathrow will serve not just London but a large chuck of England, and the bulk of people in England live either north or west of the Thames, so an airport tucked away in the South East corner of the country will necessitate a change of trains in London, something that will automatically add 1-3 hours onto any journey time.

This is the whole reason why the Roskill commission picked a site north of the capital. The present Airports commission, perhaps recognising the impracticality of this option went for the next best thing, which was to expand Heathrow.

My own view is that instead of expanding Heathrow, just make sure its integrated into the HS2 network, as this will eliminate the need for commuter flights to Heathrow, freeing up capacity. Furthermore, as HS2 passes close to Manchester and Birmingham airports, it offers the alternative of expanding them instead and offering a fast connection time to London, Heathrow and the rest of the country. Its also worth remembering that much of Heathrow is given over to cargo. Do the parcels really care where they land? Can’t we just take one of a number of airfields near London (or take over Luton or Oxford airport), turn it into a dedicated cargo handling facility (again ensuring good connection to the rail network as well as the motorways) and redirect all the cargo flights away from Heathrow?

But, like I said, the problem is that no matter what answer they come up with, its going to be unpopular with someone. The Heathrow HS2 link for example has been killed off by the usual NIMBY-ish, indeed Gatwick expansion is also resisted by various NIMBY’s in that part of the country.

Ultimately the government needs to realise that part of their job is to make unpopular discussions. So either they need to disappoint someone by expanding Heathrow, or building a new airport to the South West of London. Or re-route HS2. Or do nothing and point out to anyone in London that wants to complain about how awkward air travel is in London, or that prices are so expensive and the airports so inaccessible, well we had plans to fix this, but you objected to it!

Railway cuts
The Tories promised billions to help upgrade railway lines in the UK, all as part of their election plans for a “northern power house”. Needless to say, that promise didn’t last very long. But I have to give the Tories credit. Most governments would at least go through the motions of pretending to keep their election promises, for a year or two anyway, then act shocked and surprised when the programme they’d badly managed and starved of funds failed.

Certainly it is true that there is a desperate need to upgrade the railway lines of Northern England. Taking a train in that part of the world is like going through a time warp. It takes so long to get from, say Liverpool to Sheffield or Leeds to Hull, you’d swear they still used steam trains. But any sort of meaningful upgrade of systems here was always going to be a major job, as big as HS2 itself.

But frankly anyone who honestly believed that the Tories, a party who have been screwing over northern England since the 1800’s, were going to spend tens of billions on the north, well I’ve got some magic beans you might want to buy! This was clearly an election ploy to steal a few lib dem seats.

Tax does have to be taxing
Another lie promise that the Tories made was not to cut working tax credits. Again, any meaningful reading of their election manifesto would lead to the conclusion that there spending plans simply did not add up without some major welfare spending cuts. And the only two line items in the welfare bill with enough zero’s behind them to make those numbers work are a) pensions or b) working tax credits.

And should anyone be in any doubt that working tax credits are going, look no further than the fact that the tabloids are already selling such a cut. They are claiming that migrants in receipt of working tax credits are sending them abroad. Again, this wrong on so many levels. Migrants are at most 13% of the work force, and if this is going on (no proof is offered), it probably only effects a tiny handful (indeed the tabloids seem to admit its a figure in the tens of thousands against recipients in the tens of millions).

And when did we have that vote to impose communism and let the government tell people what to do with their money? I have a bank account in Ireland and yes I push some money from my British account into it every now and then (I don’t receive any working tax credits, but no doubt if I did they would probably class this as “sending it abroad”), as this means I’ve money I can then withdraw in euro’s when I go on my hols. Are the Daily Mail saying the government should now regulate bank account transfers? If so let’s start with the non-dom’s, like the people who own them!

More crucially of course is that these tactics mirror those used prior to previous benefit cuts. Have the tabloids claim migrants or lazy scroungers are receiving them, propose cuts, etc. So working tax credits are likely to be go quicker than you can say “boy for sale”.

United Disgust
Fifa have enough problems as it is, but if you want a good example of the endemic corruption within the organisation, or its wasteful spending on very public vanity projects, look no further than the recently released film “united passions”.

I have yet to come across a film so universally panned by critics 😳 as this film. And probably for good reason, for a film that has taken in all of $200,000 since May….against an alleged budget in the tens of millions. The film’s director has already disowned it, while Tim Roth, who inexplicably plays Blatter :??:, has been making all sorts of excuses.

Of course the film glosses over a few details. Such as the fact that the only reason why we have a world cup was due to a Bernie Ecclestone-esque power struggle between then FIFA president Jules Rimet, the British and the IOC. The film also glosses over the decision to host the second world cup in Fascist Italy. Plus they were in talks with Germany about hosting the 1942 world cup, until Hitler’s little “excursion” into Poland. Then there’s the closeness of FIFA top brass to various shadowy figures, notably various South American dictators and corporate sponsors. Or how on behalf of said sponsors FIFA has put pressure on governments to pass various legislation.

If you want to see a blatant piece of ego massaging propaganda, might I recommend this instead. On the plus side, there are rumours that Ben Afleck and Mat Damon are planning to make a movie of the book House of Deceit about the recent FIFA scandal. Perhaps they can get Tim Roth to reprise his role?

Trump, you’re fired!
Donald Trump :crazy:, professional buffoon and ego manic, has announced his candidacy for the US president. A gift of comic gold dust to US late night comedians. For Trump is known for his habit of suffering from a condition known as “diarrhoea of the mouth”

He has also shown an inability to understand the concept of irony or get a joke, as his recent spat with Bill Maher demonstrates, or indeed his various spat’s with John Steward of the Daily Show. Of course any politician who can’t handle a few comedians is sort of screwed. After all, how does he plan on handling an interview with a serious journalist or a debate with someone like Hilary Clinton?

However in amongst the various comments he’s made since declaring, were a number of racist ones about Mexicans, something which has led to NBC firing him from his own show. Mexican TV have also pulled his shows and even Macy’s has cut its ties with him.

Trump’s problem is that he’s basically a spoiled little rich kid who has lived his life in a little yes man bubble where nobody around him dares to question him. Hence he doesn’t realise how bad what he’s saying sounds to anyone how lives in the real world. I mean even Glenn Beck, a man famous for suffering from Nazi Tourettes, has come out and called Trump crazy.

Battle flag of the racists
And speaking of racists we have the controversy over the Confederate battle flag in the US. After the Charleston killer was seen posing with it, there were calls for the flag to be removed from public buildings. A problem, because inexplicably it still hangs in front of the state capital of South Carolina and its incorporated into the state flag of Mississippi.

Now some will defend the flag and say it means different things. However as John Steward puts it, this is like neo-nazi’s waving swastika’s about and claiming that it means support for Germany’s tough anti-smoking policy. The problem is that the confederate flag has long been a symbol of racists and white supremacists in the US. And it is forever tainted with the legacy of slavery. Now if they people defending it were black or liberals, okay maybe we could believe its defenders, but unfortunately they are almost universally white, conservative, right wingers.

Backing down on climate
The Pope’s letter on climate change released a few weeks ago, which was basically one step removed from a papal bull, has put Republicans in a bit of a pickle. Basically, they can’t bring up climate change denial now, without running the risk of being ambushed by journalists with the line “the pope say’s its happening and its a sin, do you plan on going to hell?”. This is a particular problem for catholic candidates, particularly given their previous positions on issues such as gay marriage and stem cell research.

Traditionally, Republicans have campaigned on the four G’s. God, Guns, Gay’s and Global warming denial. Now they don’t dare mention the first or last G, as that raises the risk of them being ambushed with the other. So this means they’ll probably be focusing more on the two middle G’s from now on…..

Taking it back
….On which point we finish with the story of a US pastor (I’ll let you guess which church) who wants to take back the word “gay” and restore its original meaning.

I happen to agree with this one. I mean “gay” is a crucial word in the English language and we need it. Now thanks to the LGBT lot you can’t read aloud a William Worthsworth poem without someone sniggering at the thought of “feeling gay”.

So yes, let’s restore this word’s original meaning. Hence why I’ll be referring to all US Baptists and Tea party members as gay #babptistsaregay #teapartyaregay :))

Of course we need someone in the UK to front this campaign. So what about Farage? He’s always hanging out in pubs with a big gay grin on him? Maybe he can do it? #farageisgay ;D

Think it will work?

Let me get this straight

So the government wants to end subsidies to wind farms. This is despite the fact, as I’ve pointed out on my energy blog, that onshore wind represents the cheapest form of low carbon energy available. It also means ignoring the fact that the historical subsidies paid out to fossil fuels and nuclear have exceeded those paid out to renewables, by some significant margin.

Yet at the same time the government is willing to throw yet more subsidies at the fossil fuel lobby in an effort to promote fracking. And while they are promising to extend the rights to allow the landed gentry to object to wind farms within visual range of homes, they are going to remove people’s rights to object to fracking. Even if a company wants to frack underneath homes, they won’t having to apply for planning permission.

It has been suggested that being near a wind farm might impact on property prices by an average of 2-5%, or perhaps even 12% in the worse case scenario. Although another study suggests no significant correlation (my take on this is it probably depends, if there’s lots of property available, a buyers market, house prices might be effected as buyers are more choosy, but if the reverse is the case, as it often is in the UK, there’s no effect). However if someone fracks under your home, forget about selling it…..ever! Already some near fracking operations are complaining of this very thing.

And there is significant doubt as to whether the shale gas reserves of the UK are even economically viable, particularly given events in the US, where shale gas operators are loosing their shirts. Already its speculated that US shale gas output might well peak by the end of decade. The Tories are in effect committing the UK to an energy policy in the form of a new dash for gas, but in the blind.

And of course we are supposed to be taking action on climate change. This amounts to a complete U-turn on last 25 years of UK energy policy, one which was launched with little warning, which will probably send the signal (as I speculated in a prior post) to the power industry to halt all investment in energy….keeping in mind that all the fracking in the world will be little use without power plants to burn it in. What the energy industry needs is not some get rich quick scheme, but a long term energy plan for them to work around. These proposals offer no such promises.

Random Thoughts

Inside job
I happened to catch a rerun of the Oscar winning 2010 documentary film “Inside Job and it was a sobering experience, as it illustrated to me how in many respects nothing has changed, and its probably if not when the next financial crisis hits. Incidentally, there’s a copy of the film online available via the internet archive here.

There are many myths about the financial crisis. The first is that this was some sort of bolt from the blue that nobody say coming. bollix to that is all I can say! The first time I heard the term “credit crunch” was in the early 2000’s, on the BBC money programme who were reviewing the Japanese asset bubble. In 2006, Irish economist Morgan Kelly discussed the probability and consequences of a property bubble bursting and its effects on the Irish economy.

Others such as Raghuram Rajan, George Soros, Satyajit Das, Christine Legarde, Bethany Mc Lean, all flagged up warnings at various points (from as early as 2005) of the impending crisis. However they were ignored by those from within their ivory corporate and government towers. Thus this “out of the blue” argument only applies if we assume that those in charge were snorting so much coke that they simply didn’t hear the warnings.

Another myth is that everything was the fault of Gordon Brown and G.W. Bush. In truth the bulk of the blame has to be laid at the feet of Thatcher and Reagan and their deregulation of markets. Bill Clinton also must take some of the flack for his repeal of the Glass Steagall act.

To draw an analogy, if the warehouse full of oil soaked rags burnt down, its hardly fair to blame the newly appointed nightwatchman Gordon Brown for it, given that it was some else’s decision to fill the warehouse with the rags while bricking up the fire exits and selling off the fire extinguishers. Okay, senior nightwatchman G. W. Bush has to take some blame for letting his frat house friends play all night poker games in the basement, without checking to see they weren’t smoking. But clearly the bulk of the blame has to go past adminstrations and the laissez-faire polices they initiated.

And the scary thing is that it was more luck that anything that meant the measures taken by governments actually worked. The few trillions in bailout money was a fraction of the hundreds of Trillions in at risk assets. In essence governments in the US, UK and Europe successfully managed to bluff the markets by throwing enough money around and hoping the spiff’s would be too busy lining their pockets to bother doing the maths. By contrast, in Iceland, which offered similar guarantees on its deposits, the markets smelt a rat, called their bluff and found the Icelandic’s wanting. So we really did dodge a bullet back then.

And where are the guys who caused this crisis? On their yachts or still in their corporate or government ivory towers! Several have gone into academia, where they are teaching the next generation of business studies students the same old tosh that got us into this crisis in the first place. This is like the nightwatchmen far from being fired being put promoted to head of training! Very few have lost their jobs or fortunes, nevermind gone to prison.

Recently Jon Steward drew attention to the fact that a group of US teachers who faked exam results face jail…while virtually none of those responsible for the biggest economic crisis in history have ever, or will ever see a night in jail.

Perhaps more worrying are the signs that we haven’t learnt the lessons of the crisis. Recent events such as LIBOR, the Forex scandal, the impending bankruptcy of Greece and possibly Italy, all this talk of Brexit and renegotiating the UK’s EU membership all point to the fact that those in power haven’t learnt a thing.

And the very fact we have a Tory majority government suggests the bulk of the electorate have forgotten too. Keep in mind the Tories, were talking about jailing people for benefits fraud, but not a day in jail for traders doing the same. Because the real lesson of the crisis was that beyond a certain tipping point everyone is at risk of being carried along by events beyond their control.

If in theory for example a US investment firm were to come out tomorrow and reveal that they’d done something silly and were now at risk of bankruptcy, or an Italian or Greek bank were to do the same, or a large UK manufacturer were to suddenly realise its business model isn’t viable outside of the EU, well what then? We could be looking at more bailouts, but where’s the money going to come from? Will the public support another round of bailouts? And even if they do, suppose the markets call the government’s bluff and they find said government unable to meet its obligations? We could be looking at a crisis of such proportions it will make the Great Recession look fairly tame.

UKIP’s cult of personality
I’ve been saying for quite a while that UKIP is little more than the cult of the Nigel. Without him UKIP are just a bunch of has-been ex-national front members . And we saw that last week with a “challenge” to his leadership. Well that is too say that several in the party came out with statements which seemed to criticise Farage, but instead they criticized various shadowy figures around him.

This is classic cult behaviour. The all seeing leader can do no wrong, he is infallible and always right about everything, ever! So the faithful instead blame either those outside the cult or his “advisors” for the leader’s mistakes. No doubt they’ll soon be burning his critics in wicker men while chanting “Sumer Is Icumen In”.

Needless to say, I’d be hugely embarrassed to be anyone one of the loon’s who actually voted for them. Although it was handy to know that there’s 3.8 million racists in the country and that this is but 7% of the population.

Coal rollers
Speaking of right wing loons, in the US there’s a fad being brewing called “coal rolling”, where they rig up their SUV’s to emit large clouds of smoke as a sort of two fingered salute to environmentalists. It just goes to show the extremes things have gone to under the tea party antics of America. The reason for opposing action on climate change has little to do with science and everything to do with a wrapped ideology.

And since were talking about it, its not just climate change that’s the worry but air pollution, which has a severe effect on the health of many. Tens of thousands of excess mortalities each year in the US are caused by air pollution. But such is the insanity of the US these days. Its the equivlent of driving around blowing cigarette smoke in people’s faces.

Meanwhile, to those who “don’t believe in climate change”, well Florida is slowly slipping into the Atlantic, an unprecedented strong el-Nino is forecast this year over the Pacific, we have a record breaking drought in California that has left the state desperate for water. And meanwhile if you live in the central US and you built that bunker in the yard to save you from Obama’s death panels….well its been raining so hard bunkers and storm shelters have started to rise out of the ground and float away.

Gun fight at the Waco Corral
A major gun fight erupted between rival biker gangs in Texas this week. I mean we have a country where people can own guns unregulated, including many in criminal biker gangs, what could possibly go wrong with that?a shootout involving several hundred people which left 9 dead!

And before anyone quotes me the 2nd amendment of the US constitution, yes and that was written when guns were muzzle loaded muskets with a fire rate of 1 every few minutes and an accurate range of a few metres (be interesting to see a re-run of this fight involving musket wielding bikers…presumably on penny farthings! “stand and deliver” and all that :))). Now unless we’re proposing to go back to those days one has to acknowledge that gun violence is a serious problem. The idea that adding more guns to the mix will somehow make everyone safer is of course ridiculous and is not born out by the facts.

Migration
There are some who say that the solution to migration is the fortress mentality, i.e. bar the door, send them home, turn back the boats. The short comings of this strategy have been laid bare by events in Asia. There the Thai’s, under pressure from their own brand of UKIP bigots, very naively enacted a draconian policy on migrants. However as they discovered when try to implement it on a group of boat people, they weren’t going to cooperate, not least because they were too desperate to do so….I mean why else do you think they were crammed into a small boat in the middle of the ocean? Felt like a scenic cruise?

So to those Katie Hopkins followers in UKIP who want to do the same, you would have to be willing to do some pretty awful things to stop immigration this way. People that suitably desperate aren’t going to turn around simply because you asked nicely, or even if you point guns at them, largely because turning around is probably not an option for them even if they wanted too. The solution is long term measures to help stabilise these countries and stop corrupt regimes abusing their power (perhaps by not being said leaders buddies and helping them launder their ill-gotten gains).

The deadly game
The Beeb sent a journalist into Qatar to investigate the state of venue construction….and the locals arrested him! Yes, that’s the world cup in 2022 for you.

The Beeb were hoping to investigate claims by newspapers, such as the Guardian, which claimed a very high death toll (one or two a day) of migrant workers on these projects. In fact its now possible that 62 workers will die for each match that is ultimately played at the 2022 world cup…not including the players who collapse due to heat stroke!

In short, FIFA’s decision to hold the games here isn’t merely the matter of a few brown envelopes changing hands, its about FIFA selling the soul of football.

Worse than Yugoslavia
I’ve described before how the conflict in Syria threatens to be worse than the Yugoslav civil war. Well the current estimates are that the casualty rates in Syria alone (nevermind Iraq) are up to similar levels, with vastly more people displaced, and the destruction of some of the world’s most historic monuments. With Palmyra now in ISIS sights, its possible that the entire region might slide into an abyss, from which there may not be an easy return.

And keep in mind, that if Iraq and Syria falls, its almost certain to involve the West eventually. There is simply no way the US or its allies could allow the likes of ISIS to end up controlling that much of the world’s oil. An invasion of Iraq, and possibly Syria too, is now a very real possibility.

I’m reminded of a prediction prior to the last Iraq war that the invasion of Iraq would led to “a hundred Bin Laden’s” and that US troops would be occupying the region for generations to come. Well now the Iraqi’s reckon we’re facing a thousand Bin Laden’s. Don’t you hate it when people get these things right, then drastically underestimate how screwed we are!

News Roundup

Election
The election campaign rolls on. The tabloids seem to have worked out that UKIP ain’t going to win enough seats to hold the balance of power alone (as I pointed out before it would take a DUP alliance to help). So the consequences of the last 5 years of them running stories about how that Farage fellow is a lovely chap, is likely to backfire almost as badly as their previous articles along a similar theme in the 30’s.

So they’ve been devoting the last few days to printing stories that swallow the most absurd tosh the Tories come up with, or making “red Ed” out to be some sort of comic book villain under the sway of the evil nasty Nicola and rowdy roddy piper Alex Salmond.

Take for example the latest one from the Tories promising to enact a law that will make it illegal for a chancellor to raise certain taxes. This is a policy, which might sound crowd pleasing, but when analysed rationally it is so silly its difficult to believe anyone would propose it.

The whole point of government is to make sure sufficient revenue is raised by taxes to pay for public services. If the government abdicates its responsibility to raise tax, then inevitably it can’t increase public spending and the inevitable effects of any economic downturn, currency fluctuations, demographic changes, etc. is that the state will either be forced into making significant cuts in public services, or borrowing heavily. The end result is likely to be to reduce the UK to the same position as the US congress, where the Republicans will fight tooth and nail to defend spending in their district, but will immediately pull on their tea bagging hat and t-shirt the minute the President tries to raise taxes or borrow to pay for it. In short this is a policy whose likely outcome is national bankruptcy and a roll back of public services unseen in UK history.

As for the “red Ed” narrative, the most radical thing Ed could do is eat another bacon roll ;D. The whole reason why so many are voting for the likes of the SNP or Welsh Nationalists is because of the fear that he’ll become another Tony Blair, move to the right and a year from now he’ll be authorising torture and wars on behalf of the Americans while humming along to Boney M.

And it is supremely ironic the Tories making a fuss about how “destabilising” it would be to the UK for the SNP to end up in power, ignoring their record in Scotland, when he is almost certainly going to be forced to rely not just on UKIP but also the Ulster DUP, which as the potential to be far more destabilising. Why is it that he’s not coming under any pressure to rule out a DUP or UKIP coalition? Perhaps because that would mean him fecking off to Chipping Norton, as it would make it all but impossible for him to win.

The fact is that if all the party leaders were to stick to their guns and refuse to enter into the coalition arrangements they’ve been ruling out, the likely outcome of this election will either be a minority Tory or Labour government who will struggle to get anything passed, even a budget or a Queen’s speech. Or a Tory government with a wafer thin majority propped up by the DUP and UKIP. Any such governments will be extremely unstable and will likely collapse, something which the fixed term parliament rules the Tories introduced this parliament could well make a perfect recipe for chaos.

In short, its likely that either the party leaders, in particular the lib dem’s and/or labour will have to abandon these promises (should be easy for Nick Clegg, he’s got experience of that!) for the good of the country. Or about a year from now the Queen will be forced to step in, dissolve parliament and declare another election.

Rent Controls
THe one vaguely radical policy that labour has come out with is a plan to bring in rent controls. Naturally the Tories went into full fanatic freak out mode, painting a bleak picture that ignores the fact that many other countries have rent control, New York being a good example, so this isn’t that radical a policy. If anything I’d argue that labour’s policy doesn’t go far enough.

In essence we have an out of control property bubble in the UK. This favours few people, as I outlined in a prior post. Particularly when you consider that bubbles always burst.

And we in Ireland are the proof of that. As a consequence of the Irish property bubble you have many older people who can’t retire as they have the millstone round their neck of a buy-to-let flat they can’t rent out at a rate that will pay the mortgage. Forcing them to work on well past retirement age, pretty much until they drop.

And many of those of the younger generation, who may have bought at the wrong time are similarly crippled with negative equity they can’t shake off. For example, they’ve had to relocate for work purposes (or a growing family) and are stuck trying to rent the old place (again rarely earning enough to pay the mortgage, and that’s assuming they can rent it at all!), as they’ll never be able to sell it without wiping out their finances. All this while renting a new house, because no sane bank would give a mortgage to anyone sitting on so much negative equity. Its like having some sort of ghostly mother in law whom you can’t shake off.

So while landlords might whinge and whine, the fact is everyone will be better off with some form of controls on rent. It would almost make me vote labour…then I heard Jimmy Murphy spreading FUD about the SNP :no:.

Tabloid hate speech
Meanwhile the election has seen a rare intervention by the UN. The UN human rights commissioner has become increasingly worried by the tone of the UK tabloids and their “hate speech” towards, migrants, foreigners and even Scots. She’s pointed out how the language used recently by tabloids, such as describing immigrants as “cockroaches”, is eerily similar to the sort of language the nazi’s used or in the lead up to the Rwandan genocide.

US wing nuttery
As I pointed out last week, come 2016, its looking likely to be Hilary Clinton versus some random nut job from the Tea Party. A couple of her Republican rivals have declared, notably the likes of Ted Cruz (A Canadian fence jumper, who wants to crack down on immigration…and presumably doesn’t know what irony is!), Marco Rubio (Cuban exile, known for his anti-science and climate change denial wing-nuttery) and the man who puts the “batshit” in crazy, Rand Paul, famous for suffering from a condition known as “diarrhoea of the mouth”.

Seriously, just put Ran Paul into Google and it usually tries to suggest “nuts”. No doubt he’ll attract many of his father’s “Paulastinans” to his banner. Which is somewhat ironic, given that his daddy was the most corrupt politicians in congress. He only managed to hold onto his seat for so long because of his habit of sticking a rider onto a popular bill, one which he was sure would pass (even thought he’d then vote against it!), giving money to his district. At the same time he was calling for massive cuts in public spending, the public spending in his district quadrupled over a decade!. So again, irony doesn’t seem to be a strong point for the Pauls.

So if Hilary’s lucky, the GOP will pick some wing nut and she’ll have an easy sail to the White House. There’s also a possibly of Jeb Bush running. While slightly less insane, he is the same guy who feels that votes should be counted…until the guy you want to win does. He also has a number of items of very dirty linen in his closet (money laundering, drugs, fraud….usual for a Bush really!). And you thought our politicians were bad!

Game of Thrones
Speaking of corrupt royal dynasties, the Saudi king announced changes to the Royal line of succession this week. This upgraded a number of the younger generation into the line of succession, while relegating a number of the older members out of the line of succession.

While this is good news, a number of those now passed over for kingship were basically hardliners, or nutters…or both! So this does suggest a softer more reform orientated Saudi Arabia in future (who know maybe they’ll let the women drive the car out of the garage for her husband! :))). But it also does bring with it risks. Obviously those now out of favour may not take this slight likely. Others may not want to wait for those in the line ahead of them to pop their clogs.

In short, I’d argue that Game of Thrones is now required viewing for all Saudi princes. In which case I recommend avoiding all weddings, dwarves, pigeon pies, crazy religious groups, dire wolves, icewalls & ice giants, high places and sharp pointy things in general.

Its a Sin
The Pope has muttered various things suggesting anyone calling themselves “Christian” should do what the good book says, appears to increasing sign’s that he’s going to make a action on climate change a major issue. Already the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has issued a report which states “human-induced climate change is a scientific reality and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity“.

And the Vatican’s position has been endorsed by the leader of the US Episcopal church, who described climate denial as “sinful”.

Needless to say this has put the fear of god (if you’ll pardon the pun) into the climate skeptics. After all the last thing the oil companies need right now is to start receiving papal bulls and priests showing up at drill sites waving crucifixes. Several skeptics quickly rushed to Rome to try an seek an audience with the pope. However these plans came a cropper when one of the priests there insisted on blessing them with holy water prior to them entering the Vatican, upon which they promptly exploded :)).

Either way, climate deniers best hope that the climate is warming, cos as far as the church is concerned, they may need to get used to warm places! I’m reminded of that song from the 80’s now.

Reserves v’s Resources

This is a reposting of something I put up on my energy blog recently regarding recent stories claiming large oil and gas finds:

In amongst the election news there’s been a lot of news on the oil and gas front that’s had my spider senses tingling….as in I sense the distinct consistency of grade A Bull$hit!

Consider the story of what was described as “the world’s largest oil field” under Gatwick in South Eastern England, with talk of “up to 100 billion barrels of oil”. This comes on the back of media reports over the last few years highlighting the scale of the UK’s shale gas and shale oil resources. Consider for example this typically Cornocopian piece from a libertarian.

A clue to the truth behind all this can be gained by actually bothering to read the report from the BGS that sparked all of this speculation. And in particular skipping to the bottom and checking out the references. You will immediately note how quite a few of them are not new, some go back many years to as early as the 1960’s. This is not really surprising because its long been known by geologists that this formation of shale existed for quite some time. What the BGS has been attempting to clarify recently is how big this hunk of rock is and what level of gas and oil is concentrated within in it, i.e. how big are the resources of gas and oil within the formation.

There is a world of a difference between saying there’s 100 billion in resources (i.e. gas/oil that is we know is located in a certain area, but may not be economic or technically possible to extract) under our feet and 100 billion in reserves (oil and gas which we know can be accessed and drilled economically).

Incidentally, anyone who wants to know more about the process of oil discovery and drilling, I’d advise taking a look at this webseries of video’s  by an Oil and Gas professor (Dr Lau), who does a good overview of the topic.

A quick look at figure 2 will help illustrate the point I’m making. As you can see only about 7% of the world’s fossil fuel resources are classified as reserves. The rest is certainly there, it exists, but the problem is that much if it isn’t necessarily in a form that’s easily extractable. It could be too deep to drill into, it could be under a mile of ocean, the rock between us and it may present problems, there could be a large underground aquifer between us and the oil (a significant problem for much of the UK’s shale resources in fact), the oil/gas might be in lots of little fields that are too far apart to be economic to drill, or it might be in waters claimed by another country. Or more often than not, a combination of factors may apply.

And a big part of the problem here is that its often far from clear, when a company starts drilling, what the situation is. Many people have this image of an oil well as being like a tank of oil under the ground. Actually a more accurate view is that of a lair of sand, soil, gravel or “source rock” trapped between two impermeable barriers. So less a tank and more a sponge….but a sponge buried under several miles of earth and rock! While the oil immediately close to our drill might well flow up naturally under pressure, or it can be pumped out, stuff further way is harder to access. We have to drill more holes…at a couple of million a pop. Or even start pumping stuff down there to force the oil out. Fracking may be called for to stimulate flow.

At some point, and we won’t necessarily know when, we’ll no longer be getting enough oil or gas out of our well to make it economically sensible to keep production going. So the well is capped. And keep in mind the industry average for oil well recovery ratios (what comes out v’s what stay’s in the ground) is about 40%, with a range of about 10-55% for conventional production. That is to say that on average 60% of the oil in a typical field is left in the ground. And recovery ratio’s tend to be poorer in new oil fields (particularly with unconventional oil and gas), largely because the drillers are still feeling they’re way around the underground elephant.

So if for example in this Gatwick field we were to identify a reservoir of oil with say 1 million barrels in place and let’s assume we can recover that for a cost of $10 million, would it be worth our while to drill? The media or the cornucopian’s types will probably say, well of course, but let’s think about that.

At current oil prices (let’s assume $60/bbl) and assuming average rates of recovery (so 400,000 bbl actually recovered), we’ll make $24 million, which doesn’t sound bad. But what if we end up only getting 10% out? Or because of unexpected complications (e.g. a load of FoE protesters occupies the rig for several months, we hit several gas pockets, we end up drilling a dry hole and need to start again, etc.) our costs jump to £30 million. Or perhaps several of these things happen, what then? Well, in this case we’re loosing our shirts is what happens, even if the oil price goes up to $120!

And this is the reason why a lot of oil finds worldwide will turn out to be minions that the oil majors simply chuck back in the sea and ignore, hence the massive difference between global reserves and resources.

To draw an analogy, if we were to assume you could book all resources and treat them as reserves, then nobody by the sea, such as a ship wreck survivor, could ever die of thirst, as after all he’s surrounded by water. However if we consider the amount of trouble its going to be to separate out the water from its salt content, we realise he’s going to be struggling to extract enough to survive. And only then if he can build some sort of solar still. Listen to the cornucopian’s and they’ll have you believe he’ll have a swimming pool with a jacuzzi up and running by his first week! B) By contrast, someone by a small mountain pond, is in a substantially better position. While his water resource is smaller, its in an easily accessible form. So long as he doesn’t over-produce and drain the pond dry, he’s always going to have at least some water available.

Hence why talk in the UK comparing the Gatwick find to Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia is laughable. Is it being seriously suggested that the UK holds more oil than the rest of Europe (including Russia and central Asia) combined? Ghawar field, represents a proven reserve of oil that has been producing for 50 years, while only relatively small quantities of oil have been produced in Southern England. Again to give you a comparison, Ghawar’s peak production is in the order of 5 million barrels a day (out of a Saudi total close to 10 million bbl/day), oil fields in Southern England output about 20,000 bbl/day.

Similarly any suggestion that the US holds “100 years of shale gas” is simply not accurate. This analysis assumes that 100% of Shale resources could be recovered (they can’t!), with a recovery factor of 100% (shale formations tend to have recovery factors well below the 40% mention earlier). A more reasoned analysis suggests 11 to 21 years of supply. The EIA estimates that Shale Gas has increased US resources by 27% and worldwide by 32%. A lot of gas yes, but not quite the massive game changer that is often suggested.

This brings us to the final point in figure 2, production v’s reserves. Again you will notice that annually only about 1.2% of world energy reserves are produced per year, or if we focus on oil alone, about 8% comes out per year. The fact is we can’t simply extract oil or gas at any arbitrary rate of our choosing. A higher production rate often means more drilling, more pumps, more costs and again beyond a certain tipping point, its not going to be economic nor technically feasible to up production. Too high a rate of production also risks causing technical problems, which will in the long term limit the amount of oil we ultimately extract from our reservoir. So large reserves, nevermind large resources don’t automatically mean a high rate of production.

And of the world’s oil resources (conventional and unconventional) annual oil production is but 0.8% of these resources. So you understand how laughable stupid the ravings of some cornocupians, like our libertarian fantasist earlier, sound when they imagine being able to drain the UK’s shale resources away (with a recovery ratio of 100%!) in just 50 years! To draw another analogy if we we’re to send a load of cornocupians to the sides of a large lake and get them to extract water using just spoons and sponges, while I took a small pond and a foot pump, who do you think would achieve a higher rate of production?

So you may enquire given everything I’ve said why are the companies behind these finds spreading such falsehoods. Well for the very same reason why the oil and gas companies are laying off staff. With the recent drops in oil price, nobody wants to invest in finding more oil, which is really bad news if you are head of a oil exploration firm. Of course the best way to attract some suckers investors to fill the company coffers is some good oil fashioned snake oil salesmanship, which the media have been more than happy to promote free of charge. Keep in mind that one of the key promoters of this story also just happens to be a city firm who specialises in oil and gas investment.

Similarly the shale gas promoters have been selling the myth that shale is some new magically energy source developed by professor Dumbledore at Hogwarts. In truth, the first fracking of oil wells dates back to 1949. Certainly the fracking technology used today is very different, the scale is larger, the depth and pressures are different. But the basic idea that we could use it to extract the oil and gas from the shale resources we’ve long known existed is not a new idea.

Anyone who doubts me, go to your universities library some evening and go through the oil and gas journals of a few decades back (say 60’s to 80’s, whatever’s on microfilm was my rationale) and you will see the odd paper or journal pop up relating to “hydraulic fracturing”. I found several going all the way back to the 1960’s….including one crazy one which thought of using fracking to dispose of nuclear waste! 88| (they went a bit nuts in the 60’s, all those drugs! :crazy:).

Again, the oil and gas industry has been attempting to suggest otherwise, as they have a very specific agenda. Which is basically that the existing reserves of oil they hold are rapidly depleting. There reserves are also uncompetitive compared to those held by Middle East producers. And the “let’s steal the Arab’s oil” gambit appears to have failed rather dramatically. So plan B is to con the rest of us into paying over the odds for domestic oil and gas, while ignoring the urgent matter of climate change and the fact that unconventional oil and gas production often comes with a much higher rate of pollution and a higher carbon footprint.

So given these factors, yes you can go with the dodgy “cowboy” fracker, whose offering a “too good too be true” deal. Or do you go with the science, which says we need to engage in a long term strategy to get off oil. Nothing spectacular, but a long term commitment towards energy conservation, renewables and generally living within our means.